Preserve put on hold

By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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A Loomis resident’s dream of preserving more open space has been tabled, for now. Irene Smith, who lives on property adjacent to the Sierra de Montserrat project, was hoping the bank takeover of 80 percent of the project would translate into the ability to purchase some of the lots for open space and student education. Smith’s hopes were dashed when she discovered that the very rules set up to protect the project’s woodlands would not allow those activities. “I was disappointed, but I’m still looking for open space for the town to purchase,” Smith said. Smith said she spoke to a representative from Comerica Bank, which foreclosed on 80 percent of the project that is not already sold, and was told the bank’s intent was to try to sell all of the lots together. Smith sent an e-mail to the group that was creating the trails plan for the Town of Loomis and her e-mail ended up as a discussion item at the Dec. 8 and Jan. 12 town council meetings. Smith proposed that 11 of the 62 lots, or approximately 50 acres, be purchased as open space and used as a hands-on nature, environmental, cultural and historical education site. She said the property’s location right next to two schools would have been ideal of a nature education site. Smith withdrew her request during the January council meeting, and said there were “too many unanswered questions.” “Who’s going to save our planet if kids aren’t outdoors enjoying themselves and becoming stewards of the land?” Smith asked. Curt Westwood, of Westwood Homes Inc., controls the remaining 20 percent of the development. He sent an e-mail to town manager Perry Beck that stated, “The CC&Rs require all lot owners to pay HOA (home owner association) dues … the lots are encumbered by a conservation easement that will not permit Mrs. Smith’s proposed uses.” The e-mail further stated that $15,000 per lot had to be paid to Wildlife Heritage Foundation for the recorded conservation easement. In addition, Westwood’s e-mail stated there is a requirement that each lot owner has to complete construction of their residence with three years or Westwood Homes has the right to re-purchase the lot for the price paid by the buyer. Patrick Shea, director of Wildlife Heritage Foundation, also sent Beck an e-mail, concerning what he called Smith’s “grand plan” and stated the conservation easements, which cover approximately 75 percent of each lot, “prohibit most of the activities envisioned by Ms. Smith.” Smith said her disappointment is not stopping her completely. “You’ve got to think big. I like to start big and work my way down,” she said. Smith said she wants to get more information on eminent domain policies and procedures, which town attorney Dave Larsen said is the only way to escape the restrictions on the properties. Councilmember Walt Scherer said the law of eminent domain should be used sparingly. “It’s something we want to stay away from unless it’s an emergency. This is not an emergency. There is already a lot of open space preserved there,” Scherer said. Councilmember Russ Kelley said, “I’m never crazy about eminent domain. I don’t believe that doing this would be a benefit to the community.”